U.S. Release Date: May 12, 2006
Distributor: Buena Vista
Producer: Lawrence Bender (executive)
Composer: Graeme Revell
Cast: Anna Friel
Running Time: 1 hour and 58 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG (language, sexual situations and some thematic material including partying)

Soccer Picture Scores with American Dream
by Scott Holleran

Disney's latest rah-rah, sports-themed picture, Goal! The Dream Begins, continues the movie studio's winning streak in the genre. The soccer movie kicks and scores despite its troubles.

Starring Kuno Becker as Santiago Munez, an illegal Mexican immigrant who's smuggled across the border by his dad (Tony Plana) one night, the gist of the kid's story is his goal to play professional soccer. But, his father has him mowing and blowing in rich Los Angeles backyards. The stone-faced boy, like most Mexican immigrants in L.A., works his tail off. He also busses tables at a Chinese restaurant.

Between improvised soccer games for a group of boys called the Young Americans, a nod to director Danny Cannon's earlier movie of the same name, Santiago stuffs his hard-earned money into an old work boot in his closet. He also finds time to encourage his little brother and listen to his grandmother, who insists on speaking Spanish in the home.

That touch of multiculturalism over assimilation is the exception in this inspirational movie. Santiago is proud, he does not seek the unearned and he is the lone beneficiary of his pursuit of happiness. In other words, he is more American than most native-born Americans—especially those whining that immigrants are what's wrong with America.

Kicking a ball off his nimble feet, his head or his knees—protected by cardboard kneepads—Santiago plays for the joy of the game. He knows he's good and, refreshingly, he rejects the Hispanic culture's collectivist edict that one's identity is based on one's race. Santiago does not play for the race or the family; he plays for himself.

Someone who notices his skill is Glen Foy, an ex-soccer scout (Stephen Dillane) who happens to be in L.A. visiting his daughter. The Englishman promises Santiago a tryout for one of those professional British soccer teams. While Santiago's dad tries to spike his son's sense of purpose, his Grandma has other ideas.

Soon, Santiago is off to London, where Glen Foy arranges an exhibition that flops. From there, clichéd obstacles impede the goal-driven plot. Santiago has asthma, a nurse girlfriend, a ball hog problem and a wild, party-boy roommate who refuses to impose any order. Still, he is always striving to play pro ball to the best of his ability.

The soccer (known as football in Britain) scenes are frenetic, with shots that are cropped at the chins and filmed in that distracting hyper-realistic style.

The cast is good, ranging from the intense leading young man (Becker) to an appropriately taciturn team owner (Marcel Iure), an outstanding, rare, portrayal of an intelligent businessman whose judgment proves key to Santiago's success.

Santiago gets too many breaks, and his field play and the team's progress are utterly predictable, but, there's enough original drama—especially his choice to pursue self-interest over duty to family—to recommend this swift kick as a safe and engrossing picture for the whole family.

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